I had the opportunity to lead a session on developing teams for a radiology department last week. As part of the introduction, I asked them to share what they believe is the mark of a strong leader. While this was just intended to be an ice-breaking connector of sorts, it ended up being far more fascinating than I expected. The variance in answers across the 18 participants was stunning, and it highlighted the fact that people are looking to leaders for a wide variety of attributes. In fact, many require that leaders hold the tension between two seemingly paradoxical realities. For instance, care for people and pursue performance. Or how about, be a great listener and cast a compelling vision. I’m certainly not suggesting leaders shouldn’t or can’t do both. In fact, in this first of two posts, I’m going to highlight an area that is foundational in establishing a healthy and strong culture.
In every season, but particularly in the midst of the times we find ourselves in now, it is paramount for leaders to do two things. The first, which is covered in this post, is to stabilize. The second is to be a catalyst.
Stability is a close sibling of safety. When the events of the global pandemic began to hit in March, April, and throughout 2020, people carried and still need a deep sense of stability. Fear rose to the surface, and people looked to leaders for stability. I’m not speaking to empty promises like, “it’s all going to be okay” or “this too shall pass.” Rather, there are pieces of information that are incredibly powerful in creating stability.
The following are two examples of how we sought to create stability in the midst of uncertainty:
The first is to covey, “this is the VISION we carry into this season.” It could be holding on to a principle or sharing the lens the leader is looking through. At our company, early in March, we shared in a companywide meeting that our #1 goal was to keep everyone employed and continue to provide for the team’s families from start to finish. We didn’t know how long the economic impact would last, and yet the situation required that we put our long lens vision down and pick up a short run vision to help move us through the unknown. While we couldn’t make any promises, we could share what we were after as leaders and an organization.
The second is to convey, “here’s how we can rally together and give us the best chance of accomplishing the VISION.” Whether it’s reducing production, adjusting marketing, or moving the team to remote work, sharing the plan equips the team to plan and act, and it creates stability along the way. For many businesses, the financial performance is marked by two metrics, profitability and cash. Both are important, and in other types of organizations, it could be something very different. In March of 2020, when the unknowns were vast within our team and responses were equally broad, we shared a shift from focusing on the two metrics to only one. Cash was what mattered to get us through. That meant a conservative equipment acquisition strategy, cautious operating expense management, and an aggressive turnover of our existing inventory. This not only gave people clarity, but it also provided direction for how they can help the cause.
When the two are tied together, the message is, “our goal is to provide for everyone’s families from start to finish, and here’s how you can help make that a reality.”
Together they are a dynamic pairing, expressing both how we’re thinking about the situation, and what everyone can do in the midst of it. We as leaders didn’t (and still don’t) have any more information or certainty than anyone else. And yet, we did have the opportunity to foster stability by providing people with vision, information, and direction.
Cheers to creating stability!! And, because stability alone isn’t enough, check out The Importance of Being a Catalyst in Leadership!